Bernie: At The NHL All-Star break, the Blues and Their Fans Have Much To Treasure

With the Blues unlacing their skates for the NHL All-Star break, it’s an appropriate time to pause and reflect on their season … a season which is a part of the most wonderful time in franchise history.

The defending Stanley Cup champions pull into the break with a 30-11-8 record through 49 games. Through Sunday STL’s 68 points were No. 1 in the West and No. 2 overall three behind Washington.

As of this writing the Blues lead Colorado by eight points in the division and in the conference, but the Avs can cut the lead to six with a home victory over Detroit on Monday night.

Last season at this time the Blues were still climbing out of a deep early-season ditch of their own making. At last season’s All-Star sabbatical — with the same number of games played, 49 — the Blues were making progress.

But St. Louis went into the rest stage with a 22-22-5 record that left them tied for 22nd overall and tied for 12th in the West with 49 points. Or to frame it another way: the 2019-20 Blues are currently 19 points ahead of last season’s team at the same point on the schedule.

The Blues have chiseled an impressive record despite having lost 139 man games to injury, the 11th highest total in the NHL. In terms of the collective value of the players lost to injury only Pittsburgh, Colorado and Arizona have been hit harder than the Blues according to ManGamesLost, the injury-tracking site.

The Blues’ biggest loss of course was Vladimir Tarasenko, their abundant goal-scoring source. He went out on Oct. 24 with a dislocated shoulder and subsequent surgery. But in their current streak of 39 consecutive games with Tarasenko out of service, the Blues have exceeded even the most optimistic expectations by gliding to a 25-9-5 record.

Their 55 points during Tarasenko’s absence are tied for first overall and are No. 1 in the West since Oct. 25.

Tarasenko wasn’t the only injury concern, however. The Blues have pushed through the injuries of forwards Alex Steen (ankle) and Sammy Blais (wrist.)

Steen missed 16 games before reentering to play well before the All-Star break. Blais, who has missed 28 games, remains on injured reserve. The Blues have also competed without Oskar Sundqvist for six games, and Robert Thomas for five.

On defense, Carl Gunnarson has missed 21 games with injuries so far. More recently, the Blues have trudged along without essential defenseman Colton Parayko, who hasn’t played since Jan. 2. He should be ready to resume after the All-Star break.

But there’s more to this season than the 2019-2020 standings. This is an all-encompassing moment in time that requires a broader perspective on the state of hockey in St. Louis.

In addition to the first Stanley Cup in 51 years of the Blues’ on-ice existence, and a successful follow-up campaign, the Blues and their fans can be grateful for other reasons…

1-St. Louis is hosting this week’s NHL All-Star Game and the multiple-day hockey festival that comes with it.

2-Stable, classy, dedicated, local, 100 percent St. Louis ownership. You couldn’t ask for a better owner and franchise leader than Tom Stillman.

3-The Blues have an ideal coach in Craig Berube. The Chief’s stunning salvage and turnaround of the 2018-2019 Blues has impacted the greater NHL. How? Style of play; heavy hockey. That’s just a moderate consideration. More than that, NHL teams are dumping coaches left and right this season because of the Berube Blues’ midseason revival. The Blues’ worst-to-first story has caused NHL team general managers and owners to break out in hives as they fire coaches with the hope of repeating the Blues’ miracle. It’s a helluva compliment to Berube.

4-There’s the beautiful rehab of the Enterprise Center. The place looks brand new. And let’s be honest here; a few years ago the joint was starting to look kind of old and shabby — at least by modern arena standards.

5-The opening of the Centene Community Ice Center complex in Maryland Heights is a big deal that reaches beyond the Blues. Not only is this a first-rate practice center for the Blues, but Centene is a busy, buzzing hockey hive for everything from youth leagues, to national sled-hockey tournaments, to serving as the home ice for Lindenwood University’s team.

6-Speaking of youth hockey, the STL hockey community is still experiencing a spectacular run of elite player development that’s produced a generation of up-and-coming NHL talent grown in St. Louis. Not only that, but young St. Louisans can be spotted are all over the map in college hockey. It’s profound.

Pretty amazing … all of it.

For the Blues, the post All-Star challenge will be the effort t0 sustaining their excellent first half of the season. To avoid ruts that last too long, and run too deep. To stay healthy. To have plenty of gas in the tank. And to take every opponent’s best shot and shake it off. It won’t be easy; all you need to do is look at the 0-3-1 showing in the Blues’ last four road games.

Saturday’s 5-3 loss at Colorado — which came 16 days after a 7-3 loss in Denver — was a reminder of just how hard it can be to stand and remain on top. The Blues didn’t have much of a problem in handling the Avs earlier this season in two victories at Enterprise.

Colorado adjusted and raised its collective level of play. The Blues can count on seeing more of that from talented division/conference rivals.

“They’re a great hockey team,” Colorado defenseman Ian Cole told reporters after Saturday’s win over St. Louis. “They won the Stanley Cup last year, so they’re automatically going to be the measuring stick for every team that plays them. They had our number early in the (season.) We’ve made a conscious effort to get it together, play a little more connected.”

But for now, the Blues have many reasons to appreciate their place in the game. And Blues fans can truly appreciate this special place in time.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie